Final Rating: 2 1/2 unknowable cups of tea.
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We’ve gone to some strange places here on this blog, and we’ve seen a lot of quivering members in various states of undress headed towards their inevitable destiny. I like to think none of us are, at this point, a stranger to the weird sexytimes. In fact, I’d say we’ve even enjoyed ourselves a fair bit along the way. Yes, there have been some ridiculous shenanigans like billionaire T-rexes getting into helicopters and authors who think vaginas are made out of Play-Doh, but there have also been some thrilling romances and sex scenes that made us blush properly, and not just because we were laughing too hard.
It is with a heavy heart that I announce Cthulurotica will not be joining those hallowed ranks.
CONTENT WARNING: There will be talk of bits going into other bits, sexual assault, murder, and quiet homophobia and biphobia ahead. I will not be going into explicit detail about anything disturbing but I want my readers to be informed. ❤
At first glance, Cthulurotica bills itself as an inclusive anthology focused on bringing balance to what is originally a very racist and sexist body of work. It is, supposedly, very much a time when the unrepresented were told to “go make their own” and well, they did. And indeed, the anthology starts out strong with a story about two women finding carnal pleasure with one another in a creepy sex-altar-cellar, shortly before they summon an unknowable horror with the sheer power of their combined lust. Great, right? I couldn’t wait for more.
Unfortunately this stride doesn’t last long. While there are definitely some gems in here, on the whole the stories contained within read a lot like a bunch of dudes who like Cthulu and RedTube decided to try and attempt some sort of weak mash-up of the two. They manage this with absolutely zero subtlety, and I frequently found myself having the thought of “Wow, I can tell what kind of porn you like to watch.” There are even scenes where straight men are aroused by the prospect of two women kissing, because I’m sure the lesbians and bisexual gals in the crowd really needed to be reminded of that old chestnut. We sink even lower with stories like The Fishwives of Sean Brolly where we read about a husband raping and murdering his wife, then being told she deserved it because she was a hateful nag who never slept with him often enough. This is, of course, handwaved away because “The fishwives made me do it”, and apparently we’re supposed to find this kinky. No thank you.
A lot of times there really isn’t any sex at all, which would be fine except A) this is an erotica collection and B) this seems to happen almost exclusively to protagonists who aren’t straight. For instance I cannot tell you my disappointment at finally finding one of the few stories in this collection featuring a lesbian protagonist, only to find that she doesn’t get laid at all. She doesn’t even get kissed. She just gets naked and throws herself into the Void. Which…I mean, yeah, sure, you do you? But I was kinda here to see awesome gals get laid?
Really, though, the greatest disappointment comes from the three essays waiting like toxic stink-bombs at the end of the anthology. The first reads like a privately composed Wiki page of all the Lovecraftian-themed books the author has studied, and also includes a lengthy list of all the different kinds of Cthulu-themed toys and merchandise you can buy. (I guess this is for readers who don’t have an internet connection and haven’t played a video game since Commander Keen was cool.) The second immediately posits that the biggest reason Lovecrafts original works weren’t sexually appealing is because there was a distinct lack of women, because of course you can’t have sex without women! What are there–gay people? (Following this revelation is yet another rehash of why people are aroused by/attracted to the concept of a “bad guy” which, to be honest, I have seen better explorations of on Tumblr.)
By far though, the third essay takes the cake. I knew it was going to raise my blood pressure as soon as I saw the words “female empowerment” in the title…except the author is a man. A man which goes on to make such stunning observations such as a male character being “feminized” by having a woman on top of him during sex. This same man is further “feminized” when the woman in question expels some sort of unknowable goo into his body which the essay-writer likens to semen going into “his mouth, of which she makes a vagina”. I can’t even imagine my grasp of sex and human genitalia being this outdated and ass-backwards, but there you have it. (Oh, and by the way: Two of the three short stories this writer picks as good examples of female domination and empowerment? Also written by men.)
Even the art is disappointing. I read this book on a Kindle, and instead of anything that looks like the gorgeous cover art, all I got were Triscuit-sized sketches that very often didn’t even match the content of the story they went with; for example, the portrait of a female character who, in her story, is described as being extremely thin with small breasts…except her picture has her as thin with enormous breasts. Cool, thanks. There were a few that I found pleasing, but overall I think the anthology would have been better off without it.
As a quiet but longtime fan of Cthonic strangeness, as well as the occasional bit of unknowable tity, I found this anthology vastly disappointing and not nearly as inclusive as it wanted to be. Save yourselves the trouble and just go read everything Silvia Moreno-Garcia has ever done. I promise you, it’ll be a better use of your time.
(Oh yes, and please don’t forget to check out the Storify of the shenanigans that happened when I livetweeted this anthology on Valentine’s Day.)